The Chapel Hill Town Council member's reelection campaign has been fined $500—the maximum amount allowable for a municipal race, per state law—by the State Board of Elections for submitting its 2015 year-end campaign finance report six weeks late.
Despite the penalty being assessed two months ago, Bell has yet to pay it, according to Amy Strange, deputy director for campaign finance and operations at the SBOE.
Bell's year-end report also, as the Chapel Hill Herald noted
several months ago, shows several checks from developers—over $10,000 in all—dated prior to October 19. Those contributions should have been included in Bell's pre-election report. In an election largely fueled by dissatisfaction about overdevelopment in Chapel Hill, Bell's failure to disclose her developer windfall before the election has struck some as a tad suspicious
Bell tells the INDY
that "personal family matters" are to blame for her late reports.
"My treasurer and I worked as best we could and got the new reports, as well as some corrections from previous reports, submitted," she says.
Bell says the developers' checks weren't included in her pre-election report because "they were received after the end of the previous cycle," despite being dated prior to the end of that cycle.
"My decisions have never been influenced by a contribution," Bell adds. "Always remember, I have eight other colleagues. I do not make or break a vote. Decisions are made by me and eight other people."
Strange says that the SBOE has assessed six fines in Chapel Hill elections over the last eight years. Five of those—to Laney Dale, Braxton Foushee, Jim Ward, John Dehart, and the CHC PAC—were subsequently waived. The sixth, issued to former mayor Mark Kleinschmidt earlier this year, is currently pending appeal. Kleinschmidt's pattern of developer-rich late disclosures closely mirrors Bell's
Bell tells the INDY
she will "definitely pay the fine." She has another two months to do so, according to Strange.
"We follow the state’s aged receivables process," Strange says. "Once it reaches 120 days, it is forwarded to the collections section of the Attorney General’s office."
The Committee to Elect Donna Bell does not appear to be an especially scrupulous operation.